A Lesson From Professional Wrestling

When I was a young lad watching professional wrestling, every now and then the heels (bad guys) would get the titles, usually by cheating the face (good guys). In the mind of a kid, it was dark times when the bad guys held the belts, it usually meant good guys getting beaten without mercy, referees distracted long enough for the bad guys to do something dastardly and get away with it, the wrestling universe was in discord. Dark times in the mind of a kid.

But the good guys would keep on fighting the battles with honor and valor despite the fix. And in time, despite all the cheating and tomfoolery, the good guys got the belts back, peace and justice were restored.

Wrestling ethics are mainly deontological (as in rule-based) and virtue (as in good person) framed in a meritocracy. There is a contest with fair rules by which contestants are to abide, let the better wrestler win. The world isn’t naturally a meritocracy, nature is impassive, but there is a human feeling that it should be when it comes to human culture and when it is broken we feel it.

Good vs. Evil is too simplistic a concept in a postpostmodern technocratic information society, and my childish feelings towards evildoers in tights may not be the most imaginative way of commenting on the social malaise of the times. But for some, it feels like we are living in dark times and that resonates with the young wrestling fan in me.

The full weight of history’s unraveling presses on us, the toxification of the planet, the social and economic injustice, and the pressures of technology and more conspire against us. There are tyrannical governments that do not recognize human rights, greedy corporations that exploit all between the earth and the sky, creepy lobbyists greasing the wheels of government, those on the take, and plain old fraudsters. If the world was a wrestling show, it looks like the bad guys are winning the belts.

Hulk Hogan, represented everything good and holy in America, he would battle relentlessly despite the odds. With oversized oiled muscles in stretched primary colors and with the spirit of a street preacher, he raved about the power of Hulkamania to his Hulkamaniacs. I was enthralled, I too wanted justice in the face of bad guys, I also was a proud Hulkamaniac.

Older and wiser I have moved on from hero worship and come to have a critical eye when it comes to Hulkamania, but I can’t shake that sense of youthful empowerment in the face of doom. Perhaps Hulkamania is for the absurdist hero, a desperate rally in the front of the abyss or inspiration for someone who doesn’t care about the odds.

And for me, that is the magic. In the face of crooked managers, blind ref’s, and steel chairs the good guys kept on battling virtuously. The dramatic heroics are cartoonish, I grant you, but none the less emblematic of an absurdist hero.

If we are in dark times, perhaps it is best to muster up some absurdist hope. From years of watching wrestling promos, one can marshal the intonations of a raging street preacher and channel the genuine overriding belief that the good will prevail just because.

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I had a great philosophy class on Kant one summer long ago in my undergrad life.  What I recall the most was debating the teacher, on what I don’t really remember but I was pleased that I was being taken seriously.  I know I got crushed, my assumptions of the world torn asunder, my logic exposed as fallacious, but my ego was fine. It was honest scrutiny, nothing personal.  And I took that notion to heart, the idea that examining cherished beliefs is different than judging a person.

It was awesome.

In scrutiny done right, you are questioned into doubting your own assumptions, cornered by your own entailments, and come to a realization of why you are wrong or at least wrong in some view.  And as things become less concrete and more contingent, a taste for ambiguity replaces the pang of angst when confronted by incertitude, yet at the same time faith in your own reasoning becomes more credible to yourself.  You thought it through, you did the maths.

A kind of Taoistic unlearning has to happen, an unwinding of the ego.  A life of understanding requires a humble openness to where the evidence takes you.  It is never a question of being right as much as a question of being less wrong which makes things less of a trial and more of an experiment.